I was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma two weeks before my 36th birthday and yes I was in shock… In some ways, I am still am. Everything you are told when you hear the word cancer is true. You only retain 10% of the information that is being thrown at you at a rapid pace. After six months of treatment at Prince of Wales Public Hospital in Sydney – which included chemotherapy and radiotherapy – I am pleased to say that I have been clear for 7 years. I live with minimal side effects and try not to complain! Friends and family would say I have perfected the art of nagging.
However, what I do think about most days (and I am not sure it will ever go away) is why I got cancer. I will be the first to admit that I am no elite athlete nor do I have a vegan lifestyle sipping tumeric almond milk lattes (and no offence if this is you). However, on the other side of the coin, I was not living an unhealthy life.
As far as I’m aware there was no family history of cancer. I am the granddaughter of holocaust survivors and often wondered if this was connected, however this is most probably completely irrelevant. I have no family predisposition to cancer and was blissfully unaware of genetic risk factors.
During treatment, I did meet with a genetic pathologist to try to understand the genetic factors that may have impacted me to be diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma. I understand that in 2010 there was not a lot of research into the genetics of Hodgkin Lymphoma. Like lots of lymphoma sufferers, I was and still am searching for a reason why.
Genetics involves the scientific studies of genes and their effects, ‘genetics’ and ‘genomics’ are definitely buzz words. You hear lots about breast cancer and women with the genetic marker of the BRCA gene and the well-known ‘Angelina Jolie effect.’ However, there was not a lot that I was aware of about lymphoma. This is why I am thrilled that there are generous philanthropic people like Christine and Bruce Wilson investing in innovative research in this area, asking the question, “Why?”
Research is essential for disease prevention and treatment. If researchers have the ability to discover that you may have a genetic predisposition to lymphoma, there maybe lifestyle factors you can adjust to minimise your risk. What I consider even more exciting is targeted therapy for your cancer. Patients might be able to gain access to what is now referred to as ‘personalised medicine’ – a targeted treatment that will just kill off the bad stuff and not interfere with the good stuff. This is a huge comfort as sadly many blood cancer patients do experience relapse.
There are numerous types of Lymphomas and sub-types. It is a common cancer. I hope that one day, we know why one person over another is more likely to get lymphoma, so that they can take steps in their life to minimise this risk. I also look forward to the time when patients with lymphoma have treatment that is effective with no side effects. Who knows, maybe even in the future with genomics testing, we might be able to predict and then prevent lymphoma. I do not think this is wishful thinking. Look how far science, medicine and research has come.
We need to make a point of fostering, encouraging and thanking those who are able and willing to give back. Thank you, Christine and Bruce Wilson. I do not need to know you to say that you are truly amazing.